Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Field Of The Dead

The first opera-like event that I ever performed in was as a teenager in a staging of Prokoviev's Alexander Nevsky. I learned more Russian from that score than I did in a semester at University. My favorite moment in the cantata was the scene of the mother, searching for her son on the battlefield singing the aria "Field of the Dead". Listen to this live performance by Linda Maguire here. You won't need to understand Russian to understand her despair, but it helps to contextualize the grief within the propagandistic nature of the piece.

I shall go across the snow-clad field, I shall fly above the field of death. I shall search for valiant warriors, my betrothed, my stalwart youths. Here lies one felled by a wild saber, there lies one impaled by an arrow. From their wounds blood fell like rain on our native soil, on our Russian fields. He who fell for Russia in noble death shall be blest by my kiss on his dead eyes; and to him, brave lad, who remained alive I shall be a true wife and a loving friend. I'll not be wed to a handsome man, earthly charm and beauty fast fade and die. I'll be wed to the man who's brave. Give ye heed to this, brave warriors!
You can see the original film for which the score was written below. But I recommend renting a disc with a remastered soundtrack.
Considered the masterpiece of Russian director Sergei Eisenstein's career, Alexander Nevsky is a commentary on the mounting Soviet resistance to the Third Reich with a historical parallel. Three years after repelling the Swedes, 13th century prince Nikolai Cherkasov (who some believe represents Stalin in this parable) wages war against German invaders with a vast Russian army. Sergei Prokofiev composed the music.

So it's not technically an opera, I know. But I thought you'd enjoy the Maguire clip nonetheless. You can see a few seconds of how a live performance interacts with the film here.